Saturday, February 27, 2010

Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together - For Real This Time!

Thanks everyone for the onion tips. Now I know to look for shiny skins and to give them a squeeze. Do you ever feel guilty going through a produce bin, examining and squeezing and rejecting produce? I know I do. I see people looking at me and disapproving of my putting my grimy mitts all over the food. Then of course I start thinking about other people doing the same thing. Then I go home and wash everything compulsively. I'm less worried about pesticide residue than I am about all of the people who may have been handling my produce. Ewwwwwwwwww

Anyway, today I'm going to talk about the classic combination of chocolate and peanut butter that I have been talking about all too much and not actually baking any of these days. Doesn't that make you feel happy? We need more happiness around here. If you live in the Northeast, you're likely buried under the - I dunno thirtieth? - snowstorm of the season and need a little comforting chocolate and peanut butter together.

My barn had their annual potluck awards dinner. I was assigned to bring dessert. I needed to make something simple and crowd-pleasing that would travel well.

I decided to make my public debut of My First Chocolate Cake. In case you don't remember, this cake was the first (and so far only) chocolate cake I ever made using a recipe of my own invention. It's not terribly different from other chocolate cakes, but I'm rather proud of it because it's mine. It's fairly simple to make. It comes together quickly enough to render cake mixes obsolete.

I frosted it with a very easy peanut butter frosting. I got the recipe from Donna. Actually, it was seeing her recipe directly linked on her blog that inspired me to do something similar in the first place. The frosting looked simple and delicious, so why not put it on my own chocolate cake?

Dinner was typical potluck fare. Lots of chicken dishes and pasta dishes. Someone made Crock Pot pulled pork that was the hit of the night. Definitely lots of crowd-pleasing food. I forgot my camera, so I never took a photo of the buffet.

Here is my dessert plate with the cake as the jewel in the crown. I had to take it with my cell phone, so please excuse the quality. Nothing fancy. Nothing complicated. Just sweet chocolatey-peanut-buttery goodness. Perfect ending to a meal.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Advice Please, Friends

I went through a nice creative burst last week, but I'm back to the food block. I haven't been creating new recipes this week. I was so out of ideas that twice I had to go to my husband for advice on what to make for dinner. We know he always says the same thing. Monday night it was turkey burgers. Last night it was pasta. Yeah, so much for that cut back on the processed starch thing. I just needed to make something.

Anyway, I decided to pull out my Fake Arrabiata recipe*. I wanted something a little spicier.

I went shopping after work. I had no ingredients at home to make it, so I had to buy almost everything. I bought the sausage, the canned tomatoes, the pasta, and the onions.

Now here is where I need advice.

I came home and started prepping dinner. I began chopping my onions with a freshly-sharpened knife (better to keep the tears down with). I was shocked to find that the onions were dry and rubbery. They were not fresh at all.

I had picked the onions for their size. I wanted two medium-sized onions and I picked through the bins until I found two that were the right size and appeared unblemished. I had no clue they were past their prime.

I realized then that I really don't know how to tell a fresh onion from a not-so-fresh onion.

So tell me, my food-experty friends, how can you tell an onion is fresh when you're buying it? What indicators are there on onions that let you know if it's old or not?

*Okay. My fake arrabiata recipe wasn't exactly what I used. That one consisted of already-made sauce. Want a quick version of the recipe I used last night? Saute onions in olive oil. Add garlic and about three crushed dried chili peppers and a pinch of red pepper flakes. When it's softened up, add about 4 cloves minced garlic and cook till fragrant. Add 4 links of spicy chicken sausage removed from the casing break up and brown well. Then add 2 cans of crushed tomatoes along with a little salt and pepper. Let simmer for a half and hour.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Changing Up a Favorite

I love my roasted red pepper sauce. Even if it's not the most original thing, it's tasty, it's vegetable-based (so it's kind of good for you), and you can use it on just about anything.

So it was Friday night and I was having a craving for it. I wasn't in the mood to come up with anything too new. I just wanted the sauce. I wasn't sure what I wanted to serve it with. It's great on a hearty pasta like ravioli or tortellini, but I'm trying to cut back on the refined starches these days (thank you Lierre Keith!). I could do chicken, because it's great with chicken, but I didn't want just a chicken breast in pepper sauce. I wanted something more.

Then the light bulb went off. How about chicken rollups? Roasted pepper sauce would be great on rollups and I'd even have some extra vegetables in my dinner.

I rolled up flattened chicken breasts with a pesto-like mixture of spinach, garlic, parmesan, and pine nuts.

When I made my sauce, I decided to add a new twist so it wouldn't be the same sauce as the last time. I decided to add tomatoes to it for tomato-pepper sauce.

I left the tomatoes chunky to give some texture to the dish.

I cut the rolls into slices and tried to make the whole dish look pretty, but something got lost in translation.

Spinach Chicken Rollups with Roasted Pepper and Tomato Sauce


2 red bell peppers, halved, seeded, and cored
Olive Oil for coating and frying
1 onion
4 cloves of garlic
1 handful fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
2 Tbl dry sherry
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
Salt and pepper

Chicken Rolls
4 boneless, skinlles chicken breast halves, pounded thin
Salt and pepper
1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and excess water squeezed out
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup parmesan, grated
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Coat the peppers a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place on baking sheets. Roast peppers for about 20-30 minutes or until skins blister.

Put peppers in plastic bags. Wait a few minutes and then remove the loosened skin. Chop into pieces.

In a skillet heat some olive oil and cook the onions and garlic until soft. Add the basil. Add the peppers and stir it all around to coat. Add the sherry and let everything cook down for another minute or two.

Transfer to a food processor along with the basil and puree until smooth. Mix in the heavy cream. Stir in the tomatoes now if you want to keep the sauce chunky. If you want it smooth, add them before you process the other ingredients. Keep warm.

In a food processor, mix spinach, garlic, parmesan, and pine nuts. It's fine if it's not smooth.

Lay the chicken breasts out and spread the spinach mixture on them. Roll up and secure with toothpicks.

In a large pan, brown cook the chicken rolls in olive oil. Brown on all sides, or as close to it as possibe.

Put chicken breasts in the 400 degree oven for 10 minutes, or until cooked through.

Put the warm sauce on the plate in a pool and put the chicken rolls into into the sauce.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tiramisu` Bars - Take Two

Hey look! I'm posting a recipe with actual chocolate, not just talking about chocolate. Sorry about that in the last post.

One of the first flops I ever posted was my recipe (or lack thereof) for Tiramisu` Bars. I had this idea that I wanted the flavors of tiramisu` in a portable form. I baked a coffee-flavored shortbread crust and topped it with a mascarpone cheesecake-like topping tinged with booze and chocolate.

The recipe baked up just fine, but I considered it a flop because the taste disappointed me. I couldn't just enjoy the cookies for what they were. The main issues with the cookies were:

1. The coffee flavor didn't come through in the crust.
2. The mascarpone topping just didn't have a tiramisu`-like flavor. It tasted more like a flan.

I don't know what made me decide to try something like this again. I guess I had to realize the original recipe wasn't all that bad. I brought the bars to work and my coworkers ate them all. They didn't taste bad. They just didn't taste the way I had hoped they would taste. If I made some tweaks, they might be a little more along the lines of what I was looking for.

My immediate supervisor's birthday is this week and you know I like to bake to kiss butt. I decided to make another attempt at Tiramisu` bars as a birthday present. Is a coworker worth the expense of all of that mascarpone? Well, she's leaving our company to take a higher position with our parent company, so why not do something a little special for her?

I made three tweaks.

1. I add more coffee powder to the base.
2. I changed the liquor in the mascarpone topping. I used kahlua this time. I know that's not traditional tiramisu` liquor, but brandy didn't do it for me, I love kahlua, and I don't like the more traditional sweet wines in my desserts. I often make a chocolate tiramisu` that uses kahlua.
3. I added lots of chocolate chips instead of chocolate shavings. This is totally untraditional, but everything is better with more chocolate.

In the end it still didn't quite taste like tiramisu`, but it was still pretty good. Supervisor ate them and shared them with a few other coworkers who said they liked them. I wonder if I'll ever get the inspiration to tweak these further.

Chocolate Chip “Tiramisu`” Bars

For Shortbread Base
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup instant coffee granules

For topping
3 4oz containers mascarpone
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup kahlua
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place flour, salt, and coffee powder into a food processor and process until the coffee powder is well incorporated. Add brown sugar and process that in. Cut butter into small pieces and process with all of the other curst ingredients until it has a pebbly texture. Sprinkle mixture into a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan and press evenly onto bottom. Bake shortbread in middle of the oven for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile prepare your topping.

Beat together eggs, mascarpone and kahlua. Slowly stir in your chocolate chips.

Spread mixture over the baked crust. Bake an additional 30 minutes or until puffed and golden and a little puffy.

Cool thoroughly before cutting. Chill in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight to really allow the mascarpone to set.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together

Remember that old Reese's peanut butter cup commercial? Some things were just meant to go together.

Well, today's recipe isn't chocolate and peanut butter, but it does have to do with one of my favorite combinations.

As you know, I've been having a bit of a food block, relying on old recipes or just not being able to come up with anything new or interesting. I needed some inspiration quickly or my blog would languish (and that wouldn't be good since I have just created a page for it on Facebook).

I found my inspiration at the bottom of the refrigerator. There in the crisper drawer were a few scallions that still seemed usable and a big, fat knob of ginger.

Ginger and scallions are just a magical combination aren't they? Maybe they're not chocolate and peanut butter, but when you're cooking with ginger and scallions and the aroma permeates the air so perfectly, I can't help but swoon. I think I could drink that dipping sauce the Chinese takeout places give you with the dumplings.

I started thinking about recipes that would employ my soon-to-be-decayed aromatics. I wasn't feeling Asian. I wanted something that wouldn't taste like the meatballs I used in my noodle soup.

Then I remembered a recipe I made years ago that used chicken, ginger, scallions, cream, and brandy. I had made it for dinner for my father and stepmother years ago. It was possibly the first meal I ever served them in my current home. It was not a typical ginger and scallion dish. It didn't make me think of Asian food. I do remember how good it smelled while it was cooking.

I did my usual brain squeeze to remember the recipe, or at least figure out how to make something similar. It wasn't just about the sauce though. I didn't want chicken this time around. I wanted pork.

I started with the white parts of the scallions and grated ginger sauteed in olive oil and butter. I browned some pork tenderloin medallions in it. The smell was perfect.

Brandy deglazed the pan, the pork cooked through in the mixture, and at the last minute I added cream and the green parts of the scallions.

Despite the fact that my crappy food photography might suggest otherwise,this was gooooood. I served with steamed broccolini, which I unfortunately left in the steamer too long because I turned my back on it to do some laundry. Whoops!

Ginger and scallions will always be a winning combination no matter what you cook them with.

Pork Medallions in Ginger Brandy Cream Sauce

1 1lb pork tenderloin, cut into 1" slices
Salt and pepper
3 scallions, sliced. White and green parts divided
1 Tbl grated ginger
Salt and pepper
1 cup brandy
1/2 cup cream
1 Tbl oil
1 Tbl butter

Heat oil and butter in a large pan. Add white parts of scallions and the ginger. Cook until really fragrant.

Add the pork slices. Brown well on both sides. Remove from pan and keep warm.

Pour brandy into pan and scrape up the brown bits. Reduce slightly and add pork back in until cooked through.

Remove pork to a plate. Add cream and green parts of scallions to the sauce and stir in well. Pour sauce over pork medallions.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Flotsam and Jetsam

I have been incredibly lazy with my cooking. I'm not thinking up new recipes. I'm not really blogging about anything important. I'm just eating.

I thought I'd still do a catchup post. What have I been cooking and eating if I haven't been playing Mad Chef in the kitchen and inventing recipes.

Sunday night I missed the Super Bowl in favor of a birthday dinner for my mother-in-law. I took lots of pictures thinking I'd do an entire blog about it. I went to Trattoria Tre Colori in NYC (theater district). It was a nice restaurant, but I decided the food wasn't worthy of an entire blog. Not exciting. Nothing wrong with food, decor, or service, just didn't excite me. I ate antipasto,chicken Scarpariello, and chocolate mousse cake and then trashed the photos I took of them.

Monday I had a huge craving for chicken cacciatore and very little time with which to shop for the ingredients and prepare it. I realized I had no wine in the house.* I tried to find something in the supermarket that would substitute. I found these.

Pouring about 2 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar into a cup of white grape juice gives you the taste of a sweet cheap wine (like a white version of the Manischevitz stuff they serve at Passover). Hey, grape juice, wine, and vinegar are just 3 phases of the same substance. I mixed pre-wine and post-wine to make wine.

The cacciatore wasn't too bad. It was a little sweeter than I like it, but totally edible. I'd prefer it with real wine though.

When the snow rolled in, I made chicken pot pie. I decided to sub out the milk in my original recipe for homemade chicken stock for a different taste in the sauce (and less stress on SPP's stomach). I was out of sherry, so I used tarragon and sage (dried in both cases) for flavoring. Quite good. Definitely a good winter day meal.

My theater group was doing it's annual Mardi Gras party on Saturday night, the same night that Kevin's best friend was having a birthday party for his wife. We decided to go our separate ways that night as we both felt rather committed to our separate engagements.

I decided to send him off with a pan of brownies so our friends would know I was thinking of them. I had leftover buttermilk from the pot pie, so I chose this recipe. I wasn't impressed with it and won't make it again. I tried to make the recipe a bit more interesting by adding shredded coconut and coconut extract to the batter and cacoa nibs to the icing. They didn't add much. I won't make this again.

For Valentine's Day, rather than go somewhere fancy and sit among huge crowds and pay too much money for an overpriced price fixe meal, we are opting to have dinner at a place that isn't necessarily Valentine-y, but is always tried and true for us, Rani Mahal. It's our favorite local restaurant.

I think this will win the prize as my Most Boring Post. There are no long stories about how I was inspired to create a recipe, no geek references, and no bad puns.

I need some inspiration soon!

*I know I'm about to get a dozen comments about how unthinkable it is to not have wine in the house. Yes, it's true. I don't habitually have wine around. Kevin and I don't drink much alcohol. He is prone to random migraines and he never knows if alcohol will trigger it. I am prone to bouts of insomnia and alcohol tends to aggravate it (I may fall asleep faster, but as soon as the alcohol is metabolized, my eyes fly open and I can't go back to sleep- and that usually happens at 3AM). We really only drink on weekends. I will buy a bottle if I need it for recipes and will try to make as many recipes as possible with the bottle - and I admit to an evening tipple when I have it around, but in general, wine is not a household staple.

Friday, February 5, 2010

I'm Feeling Ducky

Quack Quack.

I love duck. I totally and utterly with mad passion love the flesh of our fine feathered fowl friends. If I had the ability to wax poetic about it, I would be writing odes. Sadly, I have no talent for that sort of thing (I leave that talent to another Duck). All I can do is just EAT IT.

I have yet to attempt preparing a whole duck in my own kitchen (although I believe such a thing is going to happen in the coming weeks), but I can make duck breasts pretty easily. After reading Sue's delightful (as always) posts on the FN cooks and their take on duck breasts, I felt it was time for me to have a little duckie feast.

I gave my brain a squeeze and decided upon a sauce for them. Oranges and honey are good together (as long as I have the right type of honey) and I had ginger a-plenty left over from the noodle-soup making, so I thought that would make a nice glaze.

I took it up one step though.

I used blood oranges.

Duck breast skin is scored and then the breasts are placed face-down in the pan at a low temperature.

While the breasts did their thing in the pan, I whirled together the juice of those oranges along with the ginger and the honey. I threw a little soy souce in there too. The sauce was a beautiful shade of purple-y red. I would use one less orange than I used though. I made a little too much of it.

I drained the pan, deglazed it with the sauce, put the breasts back in, and cooked them through in the oven for 10 more minutes.

Sweet, succulent, and served with my creamed spinach. I couldn't be happier.

Sir Pickypants is anti-duck. He only eats chicken and turkey when it comes to meat (although he'll do pheasant in a pinch). I made him shrimp. I saved some of that orange mixture, tossed the shrimp in it, and then roasted it at 400 degrees for 6 minutes, as Ina Garten instructs.

Duck Breasts With Blood Orange Glaze

2 duck breast filets, defrosted
Juice of 3 blood oranges
2 Tbl honey
1 Tbl ground ginger
1 Tbl soy sauce
Pinch salt plus more for sprinkling

Heat oven to 350 degrees

Score several cuts into the skin of the duck breasts. You want to score just the skin. Stop your knife before it hits the meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides.

Heat a pan to medium low. Place the duck in there skin side down. Gently cook for 15 minutes, occasionally draining your pan.

Mix together your ginger, honey, salt, orange juice, and soy sauce while the duck does its thing.*

Flip your duck breasts over and cook the meat side for 5 minutes. Then place them in the oven for another 5 minutes.

*For the shrimp, put aside about 2 tablespoons of the sauce. Toss about a dozen medium shrimp in it. Place on a lightly oiled cookie sheet and roast at 400 degrees for 6 minutes. Hubby will agree it's delicious that way.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Shiny Happy Bowls of Noodle Soup

I certainly had my share of responders in support of eggplant in the last post. I'm afraid I'll probably stick to my vow not to make it anymore though. I clearly can't cook it in a way that I enjoy it, and since it has no nutritional value, I don't see the point. I'll stick to eating it in Asian restaurants, where someone else can prepare it in an acceptable manner, or else stick to some fattening eggplant parmigiana.

I did much better with the soup I made this week. I was craving a big bowl of Asian noodles and this soup hit the spot. It was so easy, I didn't even need a recipe.

I took two quarts of homemade chicken stock I had sitting in the freezer and added the white part of two scallions, two dried hot peppers, three lightly-crushed cloves of garlic, a big chunk of ginger, and two tablespoons of soy sauce (next time I'll use 1) to the pot and let it simmer.

I soaked a package of cellophane noodles in hot water for 10 minutes and tossed them with some sesame oil.

I cooked some cremini mushrooms in sesame oil just until they were brown and soft. I know they're not very Asian, but the store only had button, portobello, cremini, and shitake mushrooms available. I don't like shitakes.

I made my Asian turkey meatballs (my "skinless wontons"). This is one pound of ground turkey mixed with the green part of those scallions (about two tablespoons), a tablespoon of soy sauce, and two teaspoons of ground ginger. These went in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes and then cooked the rest of the way in the soup for another 10.

When everything was ready, I laid the noodles at the bottom of a big bowl and poured the soup and meatballs on top. The bowl was garnished with the mushrooms along with some shredded carrots, cilantro, and more chopped scallions.

A delcious warmer on a winter night and a definite improvement over last week's eggplant. I feel much better now.